As told to Mrs. Chaya Feigy Grossman
Can you tell us what you encountered once you left the convent? (continued)
My paternal grandparents spent the war years in Siberia and survived. In 1946, they returned to Cracow. My father heard that they had returned and went to visit them. There was a Polish woman who worked for my grandfather before the war in his textile business. Before we escaped Poland, my father took the family pictures and gave it to this woman for safekeeping. After the war my father returned to this lady to retrieve the family albums. She promptly told him that she no longer had them. She chased him out, with the threat of the police. My father did not stick around; he took my sister who had accompanied him, and immediately returned to us in Hungary.
My maternal grandmother had a cousin, Rabbi Shabsai Frankel, who worked for the Agudah in Poland before the war. Her friend suggested that she write to him, requesting his help. Being that she didn’t know where he was, she sent a telegram to the Agudah in America. She asked them to help her locate any surviving relatives.
Hashgachah pratis was obvious again. The telegram landed on the desk of Rabbi Shabsai Frankel. Immediately, he sent back two telegrams; one to us and one to my mother’s sister in New Zealand, stating that my mother and her youngest brother survived. At the same time, we received correspondence from my mother’s sister in New Zealand that they were going to work on getting visas for us to come to New Zealand.
When my parents heard this, they decided that in the meantime they weren’t going to remain in Hungary, they would travel to Czechoslovakia — to Prague. Once in Prague my father and other Jewish people who were there organized a school. We learned the Czech language and other subjects. My father taught us the Jewish subjects and how to daven.
We lived in Prague for about a year. In 1947, we received passports to travel to New Zealand. We traveled by ship to Marseilles, France. When we arrived in France, there was a cargo ship waiting at the dock. It was one of the first transports leaving Europe after the war.
We boarded the ship, one hundred people to a cabin. My mother almost fainted; she couldn’t imagine living under these conditions. We were able to take along kosher food; it lasted us for a short while.
It was a seven-week trip and we truly enjoyed it. The captain and his crew were very nice to us. When the trip was over we landed in Sydney, Australia. We remained there for a few days before boarding the next ship to Wellington, New Zealand. The two weeks that this trip took wasn’t as pleasant as the first half. The waters were rough, and everyone was seasick including the captain. I remember my mother davening and begging, “…we survived the war, do we have to die on this little ship?” Hashem listened, and we made it to New Zealand.
Can you describe life in New Zealand?
New Zealand at that time had a population of two million people. The Jewish community was situated in Wellington. There was a minyan of very Orthodox people. The rest came to shul by car; they kept part of Shabbos but not the whole Shabbos.
People heard that my mother knew how to sew well, and she was able to open a small business as a seamstress. For a while we stayed with my aunt. My mother’s uncles, the Frankels, who were in Shanghai, got visas to New Zealand too. They moved in with us, making it about 15 people living in one house. At that point we were able to move into our own, one family, house. There were five bedrooms. We rented out two of them to borders; a third was used for my mother’s seamstress business and the other two we kept for ourselves.
My father didn’t know the language; so, in the beginning he worked as a janitor because we needed money to live. Eventually my parents opened a full-fledged business; my mother sewed dresses and my father went around selling them.
My mother took in two workers: an Indian woman and a Polish woman. As the business grew they needed more help and they hired a second Polish woman. One day, while the two Polish women were eating lunch, they were chatting. Unbeknownst to them my father understood every word that they were saying and realized immediately that they were angry at the Jews and he dismissed them. About six months later the first Polish woman came back to apologize and he took her back.
to be continued…
These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.